OFF COURSE MINI: Self Imposed Labels

Welcome to another Off Course Mini, my weekly blog post about ideas I have that don’t warrant 2000 words but maybe warrant 500-700 words but mostly I want attention. If you want to reach out concerning these pieces, running, burritos, or something else you’re curious about, feel free to leave a comment on my site or slide into my DMs on Instagram or Twitter. If you want to reach out to tell me that I’m slow or my writing sucks, that’s cool too. Just go to any of those places, type out the message, then delete the message and have a nice day.


Quick update: This past weekend, I ran the USATF 25k Championships at the 5th3rd Riverbank Run in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The race plan was to go straight to the front and keep the pace honest for the first 10k, which was generally flat or a little downhill. After that, the course had a lot of rolling hills for the next 10k, so I was supposed to surge and make moves at every opportunity. That’s not a strategy that I have employed before and it was a pretty terrifying thing to ruminate on after not running as well as I had hoped only 9 days earlier at Payton Jordan. I basically did all of that, all the while repeating my power phrases, “keep the pedal down” and “fuck with me you know I got it” (shouts to Jay-Z and Rick Ross). I pushed hard from the start and made a lot of moves in the first 11 miles and then pressed this really long hill and hammered the downhill after that. Sam Chelanga covered every one of those moves and pulled me back at around 20k. We then came through the ½ marathon in 1:03:12, which is the 3rd fastest ½ marathon I have ever run and only 16 seconds off of my PR (lol).  After I tossed in a few more surges which Sam covered easily, I let off the gas and Sam and I did this cat and mouse thing where he would make a big surge and I would grit my teeth and repeat, I am not losing this god damn race to myself as I chased him down. That brought us to the last 600 meters, which contained 2 turns and a short hill. We both took off on the first turn and sprinted for approximately 570 meters at which point Sam pushed his beautiful but tiny little body slightly ahead of me a little bit and my legs said, “no way Jose” and went out from under me only to barely keep me upright as my knees buckled and my momentum (barely) carried me across the line in 2nd. That was, objectively, one of the best races I have ever run, it was certainly the most assertive and aggressive I have ever been. I threw everything I had at Sam and he just beat me. Good for him. Onwards!

Next up is the Bolder Boulder in 2 weeks!

Ok, on to the piece.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. So, in that vein, this piece is about the labels we tend to give ourselves. Now, I am not saying that we should completely do away with the taxonomy of psychological disorders. Not at all, classification is a crucial aspect to researching and understanding and studying different forms of mental illness. I, for example, have, or had, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. To be honest, I am not sure if this is a diagnosis you get for life, or if you can beat an anxiety disorder. Despite what you will read later, I do not think any less of the therapist who diagnosed me for telling me that. It was helpful for him to classify my illness and recommend a course of therapy, and it was helpful for me to have that diagnosis so I could research my situation and learn more about alternative therapies, medications, and the likely progression of my symptoms so that I could be my own advocate (quick aside, anxiety is a big time bummer to experience in consistent and high doses, but it does lend itself pretty well into furiously deep diving into a topic, because like, you have to do something with that energy, I personally channeled it into learning more about anxiety disorders and slamming large quantities of coffee). That type of label is not the one that I want to write about today. The type of label that I want to write about is the type that we give ourselves, as an anxious person, or a depressed person, or a “insert negative emotion here” person.

Are you sitting down? You should probably sit down for this next piece because I’m gonna drop some profound shit here. Ok, here we go, *deep breath* everyone experiences anxiety and sadness. BOOM!! MIC DROP!! I’m out people!!

Ok, actually I came back. I can’t give up your attention just yet and I have more to write.  

Experiencing a range of emotions that covers both the negative and positive side of the spectrum is a part of being a human being on this planet. Crazy, I know. So, to dub yourself, “an anxious person” or “a depressed person” is an act of separation. When you label yourself in that way, you push yourself away from the rest of population. You say, those people are normal, and I am anxious or depressed or whatever. I know this, because I’ve done it. When I first got told that I had an anxiety disorder, I thought I was different from everyone. I would look around class and think that everyone else was the same, they were normal, and I was different because I was an anxious person. This is a problem for 2 reasons. The first being, separation is the exact wrong thing for someone who is struggling psychologically. If you really want to increase symptoms of anxiety or depression in someone, isolation from their peers is a pretty sure-fire way to achieve that. So, self-imposing these labels creates separation, when what would actually help is inclusion. The second problem that arises from fixing a label to ourselves and thinking that we’re different because of that label is the idea that experiencing anxiety or depression, even clinical levels, makes you different could not be farther from the truth.

I remember reading this one study that followed a ton of people for like 30 years, and it found that at any one time, like 15-20 percent of the subjects met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder. But, more important to the point that I am currently trying to make, over the course of the study something like 75% of the subjects met the criteria for a psychological disorder at some point. This raises the obvious question of whether having a psychological ailment is actually even abnormal. But this finding also suggests that the self-imposed separation that mentally ill people create due to their mental illness only exists because that person imposed it on themselves.

Think on it like this, when I was experiencing the height of my anxiety, the biggest class I was in probably had 40 people. So, that means between 5 and 10 of those people probably met the criteria for some mental illness at the exact same time that I did, and about 30 of my peers would either meet the criteria for a mental illness at some point in the future or had already experienced those symptoms. Almost everyone in that class either had, was, or would go on to, experience the same shit. If anything, the abnormal ones were the 10 or so lucky people who WOULDN’T go through that kind of thing and even they get stressed sometimes or sad sometimes, because that’s how being a human works.

Which brings me back to my original point about giving ourselves these labels of anxious or depressed. They created separation when none exists.

Here’s a thing to prove it to you one last time:

1.Do you experience anxiety?

1a. If you answered no- Are you alive?

              1aI. If you answered yes- Congrats!! You are enlightened!!

              1aII. If you answered no- Bummer! You’re dead.

1b. If you answered yes- You are a normal person!


2. Do you experience sadness or depression?

2a. If you answered no- Are you alive?

              2aI. If you answered yes- Congrats!! You are enlightened!!

              2aII. If you answered no- Bummer! You’re dead.

2b. If you answered yes- You are a normal person!

So, to conclude, if you’re currently experiencing some negative emotions, give yourself a break. You are not alone and if you feel like you need it, go get help. Therapy improved my life immeasurably. And, if you are one of those people who aren’t currently experiencing those negative emotions count your blessings and try to do something kind for someone who might be.